Louisiana senate approves constitutional amendment declaring no right to abortion

by Kim Boateng Last updated on May 31st, 2019,

The Louisiana Senate on Tuesday approved a state constitutional amendment declaring that citizens do not have a constitutional right to an abortion by a vote of 31-4.

The bill explicitly outlines that “nothing in this constitution shall be construed to secure or protect a right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” The proposed amendment would effectively ban abortion in Louisiana only if the US Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark decision that legalized abortion nationwide and guaranteed the right as fundamental.

In order to pass state constitutional amendments, a proposed amendment must be presented to the general public for a vote and receive a majority. Originally presented to the Louisiana House of Representatives, the bill passed and was subsequently sent to the Senate. The Senate has since added language that secured lawmakers the right to regulate and pass laws about abortion. Senators argued that they can enact exceptions to abortion limits when necessary to protect the life of a pregnant woman or those pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

Now, the bill will return back to the House for final approval. If approved, the constitutional amendment will be proposed to the public for a vote as soon as October.

House Bill 425 would ask the state’s voters to approve a ban on abortion as an expression of opposition to the pregnancy ending procedure that could prove helpful should the Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion, be overturned as many expect will happen in the near future.

State Sen. Beth Mizell, R-Franklinton, who brought the bill in the Senate for Jackson, said it was an opportunity for the state of Louisiana to make clear it doesn’t support abortion.

The bill is one of a handful being pushed through the Legislature this year that would curtail abortion rights. Louisiana is part of a wave of states across the South and Midwest racing to enact some of the nation’s strictest abortion laws.

Michelle Erenberg, executive director of Lift Louisiana, which opposed the measure, said constitutions are meant to protect rights, not deny them. She said the amendment “will directly hurt some of our most vulnerable citizens: poor women.”

“This shameful proposal doesn’t even make exceptions for women who are victims of rape or incest,” she said in a statement. “Rest assured, we will fight for women’s rights all the way to the ballot box and stand up to those who want to make women second-class citizens.”

The Legislature also appear poised to pass the “fetal heartbeat” bill that would ban abortions after about six weeks, before many women know they’re pregnant. But that measure would not go into effect unless a similar Mississippi law is upheld by the courts, and abortions will likely remain available in Louisiana barring a move from the nation’s high court. Gov. John Bel Edwards has said he is inclined to sign the measure.

The statewide vote legislation, like the bill to ban abortions after about six weeks, would not immediately have any effect on women’s access to abortion in the state.

A 2016 poll from the LSU Public Policy Research lab found Louisiana residents are generally more opposed to abortion than Americans as a whole. About 55% in Louisiana think abortions should be illegal in most or all cases, the poll showed, while 40% think it should be legal in all or most cases — nearly a mirror opposite of what national surveys show. While more than 80% support some restrictions on access to abortions, only a quarter think it should be illegal in all cases, the poll found.

If the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision is overturned, the decision whether or not to allow abortions reverts back to the states. Louisiana has a 10-year-old law on the books that says if given the choice by federal authorities, all abortion would be illegal in this state.

But in some states, most recently in Kansas, courts have ruled abortions legal because the procedure was not expressly forbidden. State Rep. Katrina Jackson, the Monroe Democrat who carried the bill, has argued that a statewide vote condemning the practice would put the ban in the state Constitution and trump any strategy to legalize abortion on the state level.

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